Yes, there is still snow in the mountains but spring is here. The lilac bushes are slowly starting to get buds. I heard there are crocus blooming although I haven’t seen any myself, and the season’s first event has been scheduled for April 22: Books, Bread and Beer as its the traveling bookstore, Yvonne’s Simply Sourdough and of course the mighty HA beers all at HA Brewery on Grave Creek Rd. Other events are starting to get sorted from a couple great times promised in the Yaak (June 17 and July 15) to an appearance in Tacoma, WA, the Montana Book Festival in Missoula, Eureka Farmers Market and others that are still taking shape. Once the summer schedule is set I will certainly let you know.
For now it is enough that the snow is gone, people are thinking of gardens and I am taking the bookstore out on the road. The winter has been too long but now I am ready to put in piles of books I accumulated this winter, make a new sign (left the last one in Rock Island, IL at an event last September), and load up the typewriter. And this season will be very special as I am quitting my day job to put more time into having the bookstore on the road. A shift but I think sixty-five and a half is the perfect age for this sort of adventure. I can still manage those boxes of books, drive a long day when needed and enjoy talking to just about anyone who shows up.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers…” This winter seems as though it might just last forever. Here it is March 5th and more snow on top of the piles we already have. And this is a minor problem compared to the political situation. But I am not giving up. I shovel the snow around the bookstore, work on inventory that piled up in the colder months, go to rallys, write letters and make phone calls to those I hope represent me in Washington, and talk with people. I recently re-read Christopher Morley’s “Parnassus on Wheels”. It’s about a woman who buys a traveling bookstore, so of course suits me but I think even those without a bookstore would enjoy it. The Professor (in the book) goes into towns, farms and even stops people along the road to tell them about the glory of reading.
I don’t know what the solution is for these current times but reading might help. All kinds of reading from classics to what is on the best seller lists, from nonfiction that explains history, geography and economics to foreign authors who offer views into other cultures. Discussing those books also helps which is why programs (like Humanities Montana) and, dare I say, serious book clubs are beneficial. Someone (younger than me) said today over lunch, “Reading a newspaper or book makes me think about the issue, while getting information only on social media can cause a knee jerk reaction.”
As spring thaws the roads and I begin to take the bookstore out to events, I look forward to conversations I will surely have with people. I look forward to sharing ideas, comparing views, listening to differences and maybe suggesting a book or two. I am not giving up.
We are definitely experiencing winter in northwest Montana. As the traveling bookstore sits encased in snow, it is an opportunity to consider the differences between an individual and a community. There is the current US president who seems very much focused on himself as an individual. And there are the numerous rallies and protests happening across the US and in other countries that are focused on community. It gives pause to think about the value of each.
There is something to be said for someone who stands up for what she or he believes, or who sets out on a journey to follow a particular quest. We can certainly ask though if that individual’s aspirations provide only personal benefit or do they benefit – or impede – others? One voice shouting out above everyone else could be beneficial considering the particular situation. Or that voice could be egotism plain and simple. “Listen to me. I am the one who knows what you should be doing.”
Then there is a community where ideally people work together to help a neighbor who lost a house to a fire, or support a much needed school bond, or pile sandbags against an encroaching river. Recently there have been thousands and yes, hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in spontaneous communities. People from across the state came together in Helena, MT to support keeping public lands public. And there were the incredible marches on January 21 for causes ranging from healthcare to women’s rights to others that need to be heard by our legislators and affirmed. People from across the country traveled to Washington DC to speak up together. There were organizers for the marches, individuals who helped get the word out of when and where. But these individuals were part of the community, similar to someone in line piling sandbags or the person offering coffee to those helping to re-build the neighbor’s house. Its a fabric whose strength is in the weave, the tenacity of threads interwoven.
During this winter, there are strident individuals and there are growing communities. People are reaching out to each other in order to strengthen the fabric and make a harmony of voices. There are some who opened their homes to others who came from out of the area to participate in a march. There are those who provided hand-knitted hats to anyone who needed one against the winter chill. People supplied transportation, food, support; people worked together towards a common good. Its winter but there is warmth in numbers.
Yes, I enjoy traveling. One of many reasons why I have the traveling bookstore. Sometimes I travel with the bookstore and sometimes I leave it at home while I go off using other means of transportation. Now I am in northern Italy traveling by bus and train with a friend who is a mosaic artist (thirstylaketileworks.com) and thus experiencing a lot of mosaics. There were first century ones in Aquileia and today contemporary ones in Ravenna. And of course we spent time in Spilembergo as well. Seeing this incredible range of mosaics and talking mosaics with people along the way, I learned mosaics can take all sorts of shapes. Not only stone or glass, but paper and clay, even shells and hair. While I had been slightly hohum about mosaics at the beginning of this trip, now I want a large table and a variety of materials to experiment making my own.
The wonder that I appreciate today is the reminder we can push boundaries in many ways. Not only art and music but in relationships, community, politics. Surely it helps to know basic techniques, to have a sense of how to create things that endure, to have standards but even with this, there can be so much room for trying something new. I like this concept of exploration not only geographical but with our minds as well.
Processed with MOLDIV
Processed with MOLDIV
Processed with MOLDIV
We try in different ways.
Support our local community groups or send checks to national nonprofits. We try to teach our children right from wrong. We might pitch in at the food bank or drop unneeded clothes off at the thrift store. Maybe we wear a button for our candidate or put a sign on our lawn. And some people take to the streets to speak out louder. Some travel to North Dakota. We sit with friends and lament the challenges in our community, in our nation, in the world. We listen to politicians and activists and rock stars and neighbors. And now there are people wondering what more they can do.
They want to do more. They want to listen harder and they want to be heard. There is an attempt to separate facts and fiction. Does the bookstore have anything that will tell me how to live? Is there something written that gives answers to the quagmire we find ourselves in? A woman asked me today, “Is it really just about money?”
Yes, we need to act. We need to leave our homes, to do more then shake our heads at what is presented in the media. We need to act responsibly and with a vision. And we need to talk. We need to talk not only with Friday night friends or people we work with, we need to talk with strangers. Or at the very least people who think differently or act differently or look differently. Let’s get those ideas out there. Let’s brainstorm. Let’s think outside the box because obviously the box ain’t working.
Books are piling up in my garage. It turns out numerous people have been waiting to find a place to discard their books. They care so much about them they don’t want to just throw these books away. How could anyone possibly put something that provided so much pleasure into the trash or recycling bin or dumpster? But giving books to a used bookstore, especially an amazing traveling one feels like giving the beloved book a new lease on life. It just isn’t being tossed and recycled into copy paper or toilet tissue. It has the possibility to be put in the traveling bookstore and taken to exotic places to find a new reader. Deb’s tapas cookbook might end up in Asheville, North Carolina. Shirley’s book on Hank Williams came down off the mountain and ended up in the hands of a young man in Missoula. The book a garlic grower gave me last summer at the farmers market was bought by a teenager at the county fair.
Have you seen the short film, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore“? So much wonder in the sense of books being alive. Not just books opening our minds and hearts to make each of us more alive, but that books have their own lives. Is this going too far? It doesn’t seem so as there is the binding, the pages, the print, the smell of the book and the weight of it in your hand. Yet all this, like meeting a new individual, is just a start. There are the words and ideas that flow from it, the shelves it has sat on, the inscription in the front to Caroline with love Christmas 1993. How many eyes traversed this book? Whose hands have held it?
Yes, books deserve to live as long as possible, appreciated, read, given as a gift, bought on a whim. The traveling bookstore tries to do this, delivering books to new readers. There are some books though that are too old with pages missing and a torn cover. There are others that probably won’t find a new reader in the places I travel to. And there are some books that were popular but not great so that seven copies end up on my shelf. Then I must decide which books should be given to a thrift store or the state prison library, which can be transformed into an artist book, which can have pages used for projects like Wendy’s postcards or a collage. This is another aspect of the traveling bookstore. Letting that which contains so much from the author to the individual who made sure the binding was strong to the reader who folded the corner on page 49, letting that book live as long as possible and then be reincarnated into more art.
Do it. That is what often comes to my mind. When I realized I couldn’t make a go of a brick-and-mortar bookstore in a rural town (pop. 1,037) I began a traveling bookstore. When someone passing through Montana last summer suggested I take the bookstore to the Brooklyn Book Festival, I applied to be a vendor. So now here I am on the other side of that particular adventure. Drove out of Eureka, MT September 12 and returned September 24. In between those dates the bookstore covered over five thousand miles – about eight thousand kilometers. The distances and changing landscapes were significant but the people are what remain with me today.
People who stopped by the bookstore often had encouraging remarks. “This is utterly cool!” “Oh my god this is what I have always dreamed of doing!” “You are right – this is amazing!” There was the Canadian man who seriously wants to start one and I really hope he does. There is the young woman in Missoula who took photos of the interior of the bookstore to send her dad so he can help her create her own traveling bookstore. There was Walker whom I met along the way. He is just starting out with a small traveling bookstore and we hugged, feeling we are surely related.
I talked with people who are transitioning in their lives. Don at eighty-eight is thinking of retiring from the summer theater he began running decades ago. Deb will end her university job next year and might become a docent at the art museum. A woman who moved to Missoula two years ago, can’t find a comfortable place in that community so is looking where she will move next. Esther at eighty-two is exploring how to kayak on her own in upstate New York. Kory is taking off for central Europe to explore Romania and Slovakia while he remains in good health. The waitress at the bar in Mitchell, SD has lived in that town her whole life and is ready to move elsewhere.
Kindnesses were graciously given. Sarah made delicious home-cooked meals although we could only stop to visit in Bozeman for a few hours going and coming. The man who fixed the blown tire in the middle of nowhere suggested a good place to buy a new one in Kadoka, SD. The guy at J & S squeezed us in so we could get back on the road as soon as possible. Don and Tweet from WVIK in Rock Island, IL donated books as did Ya’aqov in Urbana. The volunteers at the Brooklyn Book Festival helped us navigate a great place for the traveling bookstore to set up. Lisa and Jason were wonderful Missoula hosts when the bookstore set up in front of Radius Gallery. Annette made us feel welcome when we set up by Cool Beanz in Illinois. Jenny talked life and whiskey, shared empanadas, and wowed me with her poetry and art.
Henry is a nine year old who typed for at least an hour by the bookstore while his dad drank coffee patiently. A woman let her two little girls play in the bookstore which was a delightful reprieve from serious literary conversations at the Brooklyn festival. One man explained to me the traveling bookstore is a pop-up business but didn’t elaborate whether this was a good thing or not.
I am sure changes will manifest from this experience. Nada talks of starting a book club in Kvacice. Melissa is going to put together a chapbook of her poetry. Jenny might give a writing workshop in Eureka. Anthony and I discussed a bookstore exchange – he would run my bookstore for a month while I ran his in Antigua, Guatemala. Lots of ideas and new connections. And all those individuals who intersected along the way. Yes, definitely do it.